Sports

Water Polo: Lincoln-Way East programs sweep sectional titles

Boys’ squad surprises top-seed Andrew; girls’ group bests district rivals

Twins Nate and Zach Formanski weren’t going to follow in their older brother’s footsteps.

Now they are certainly glad they did.

Zach Formanski scored a game-high five goals, including the game-winner, and Nate Formanski made numerous nice saves, especially down the stretch. Their efforts helped propel the Lincoln-Way East boys water polo team to a 10-9 upset victory of top-seeded Andrew on Saturday morning in the title game of the Homewood-Flossmoor Sectional.

It was the sixth straight sectional title and ninth in school history for the Griffins (23-10), who lost to Andrew (18-5-1) twice during the regular season. Lincoln-Way East, which finished fourth the past two times at state, will face host Stevenson, a 13-4 winner over Libertyville at the Buffalo Grove Sectional, in the opening quarterfinal game on Thursday at 4:30 at Lincolnshire.

The second-seeded Griffins took a thrilling victory in an all-time classic game.

“I’d take this over anything,” Nate Formanski said. “The fans were so loud. That and the hype made it incredible.”

It did and if the Formanski brothers, who are seniors, would have gone with their first instinct, they never would have been involved in the sport.

“Our older brother, Ben, got us to play,” Zach Formanski said of the 2018 Lincoln-Way East graduate, who helped the team to a pair of sectional titles. “He started playing at Lincoln-Way North and then went to East when North closed. “At first Nate and I said we weren’t going to play, but we did.”

It proved to be a good decision.

“I had played baseball all my life and wasn’t going to play water polo,” Nate Formanski said. “But then I did and became a goalie halfway through my freshmen season.”

Lincoln-Way East coach Ryan Lodes remembers the twins tagging along with Ben to the team’s end-of-the-season party in 2018.

“Ben came to the pizza party and the twins came with,” Lodes remembered. “They were scared but showed up.”

They weren’t scared down the stretch on Saturday. Andrew senior Alex Zawada (4 goals) tallied on a quick toss with 1:17 left in the third quarter to tie the score at 8-8 and set up the exciting final seven minutes.

Cullen Murphey (2 goals) scored with a shot into the left corner with 5:29 to play in the game to give the Thunderbolts, who defeated Lincoln-Way East 13-12 and 12-9, their final lead of the game. The Griffins tied it with 4:54 left when senior Jake Wolf tipped a goal in from the right corner.

From there both teams buckled down on defense and Nate Formanski made a really nice save with 58 seconds to play. That set the stage for his brother, who scored all five of his goals in the second half, to drive in front and rattle a shot past senior Adam Vanderberg at the half-minute mark.

“I was ready to puke,” Zach Formanski admitted of his nerves down the stretch. “That (game-winner) was crazy. I just saw that side open and when it went in I was going crazy.

“We came in here as underdogs and had lost to them twice in the regular season. Last season I was just a role player, now I have a main role and it feels so much better. I love this game.”

Lodes loves this team.

“Jayden Lott has been our leading scorer all year,” said Lodes of his senior, who is one of four starters back from last season’s squad. “But Zach stepped up and has been our most improved player.

These guys just worked. We went over our goals at the start of the season and this (sectional championship) is always one of them. Andrew is a great team and fought the whole way.”

Nate Formanski, who was the starting goalie last year, made a trio of great saves to start the game, including one on a penalty shot less than three minutes in. Senior Nick DiBenedetto got the Griffins on the board with a long shot with just under three minutes to play in the first quarter. Lott later scored the first of his three goals for a 2-0 lead.

But the T-Bolts got on the board with 36 seconds left in the first quarter when senior Phillip Rak scored in front. Andrew added a trio of goals in the second quarter to go ahead 4-2 at halftime and extended the lead to 5-2 on a quick backhanded goal by Luke Reiter 25 seconds into the third quarter. The Griffins scored four of the next five goals, including a penalty shot by Zach Formanski, to tie it at 6-6 midway through the third quarter.

Senior Nassar Nassar also added a goal for the Thunderbolts, who have never won a sectional and lost to Lincoln-Way East 17-6 in the sectional title game in 2019.

“Our guys played super hard all year and I’m just super proud of them,” Andrew coach Shawn Walsh said. “We knew that it would be tough against Lincoln-Way East and it was.”

Girls

Lincoln-Way East made it a clean sweep on the day with a 9-6 win over Lincoln-Way West in the second game.

Lincoln-Way East punched its ticket to state for the second straight season and sixth time in school history. The Griffins will look to advance to the semifinals for the first time when they face Naperville North, a 15-3 winner over Naperville Central at the Neuqua Valley Sectional, in the final state quarterfinal game at 8:15 on Friday at Stevenson.

Senior Gabby Brozovic and junior Paityn Richardson each scored four goals to pace the top-seeded Griffins (26-6). Both will return to state for the second straight season.

“The feeling gets better every time,” Richardson said of going to state.

Brozovic scored all four of her goals while Richardson had two and sophomore Lia Delage added one with seven seconds to play in the first quarter as Lincoln-Way East jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first seven minutes.

“I feel like once we get our momentum going that we can make shots,” Brozovic said. “That gets our confidence boosted and gets our team morale up. We all know we can rely on each other.”

Richardson added two goals to start the second quarter and in between senior keeper Morgan Frech stopped a penalty shot.

“We just want to come out and score for our team and we did that,” Richardson said. “Both games with Lincoln-Way West were close (7-5 and 9-8 Griffin wins) and we knew we had to seize the momentum.”

Following Richardson’s final goal, Lincoln-Way West led 9-0 with 3:55 to play in the first half.

“It was exactly the start we wanted,” Lincoln-Way East coach Steve Anderson said. “I knew in the first quarter I wanted to come out big and we did. Gabby and Paityn are my go-to players for everything.”

While the Griffins did some substituting the rest of the game, they also didn’t score in nearly the final 18 minutes. That allowed Lincoln-Way West, which got goals from seniors Allyson Witt and Abigail Karpluk late in the second quarter to make it 9-2 at halftime, to slowly creep back in the game.

“I would have absolutely taken it,” said Lincoln-Way West coach Eric Pavlacka when asked what he would have said if someone told him that his team would hold the Griffins scoreless for nearly the final 18 minutes. “We knew that defense was our strength. We had shutout teams after the first quarter in the last two games (11-1 win over Bremen co-op in the quarterfinal and an 8-2 victory over Lincoln-Way Central in the sectional semifinal). But (against Lincoln-Way East) we had one quarter that got away from us.”

Karpluk and senior Emma Stiglic scored third-quarter goals to make it 9-4 after three. Stiglic and senior Sydney McGann scored two quick goals down the stretch to draw the Warriors (23-10) within 9-6 with 1:17 remaining. But they turned it over in the final minute and Lincoln-Way East celebrated.

“We would have liked to score more from the perimeter but the Lincoln-Way West goalie was phenomenal,” Anderson said of sophomore Madalyn Witt. “But our defense was great. If we press that hard, we are able to shut down a lot of teams.”

Despite the loss, it was a great season for the Warriors, who advanced to the sectional championship game for the first time in school history.

“We tied the school record for wins at 23, which we also did in 2019,” Pavlacka said. “So there was much upside to the season, including being the first Lincoln-Way West team to get to a sectional final in school history.”

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